The Dos and Dont's of Using Consultants
As with any major change programme, an early decision in a Balanced Scorecard effort is whether or not to engage the services of an external consultant.
Those who decide to invest in consultancy support have many external firms to choose from. Making the right choice can deliver substantial benefits to the business and truly kick-start the scorecard program. A wrong decision can be costly financially but also strangle at birth the scorecard effort.
This article provides a checklist on the do’s and don’ts of using Balanced Scorecard consultants.
Given that a recent Bain & Company survey found that about 60% of North American, Latin American and European organizations are deploying a Balanced Scorecard, it is unsurprising that an expansive community of scorecard consultants has formed to proffer best practice advice (1).
But just as the quality of enterprise scorecard efforts vary sharply (from a simple collocation of balanced metrics held by a middle management team to a full-fledged strategy-focus organization program), there is a marked differential in the worthiness of available scorecard consultants. Consider these two contrasting views from Balanced Scorecard managers that have engaged consultants.
The first manager comments:
“(The consultants) brought with them a great deal of expertise and the experience of having done this with other organizations. They also brought very structured, project management experience, and paid particular attention to ensuring knowledge transfer took place so we could continue this on our own once they had left.”
Compare that with the view of the second manager:
“The consultancy held workshops for the senior team and then at middle and junior management levels. They organized the scorecard into perspectives, but then made a mistake. They focused on selecting measures for each perspective that could be used by the top team and (at lower) levels.
“As a consequence, teams at each level had exactly the same measures on their scorecards. So it became a measurement exercise that had nothing to with strategy and what’s more there was no buy-in within the organization.”
Unsurprisingly the first consultants were rated an unequivocal success and the second an un-mitigating disaster (later a replacement consultant would facilitate a successful scorecard program).
The Benefits of Using a Consultant
Given that it is possible to implement the scorecard without external help (as many have), a critical question at the outset is why use a consultant?
Building Internal Capabilities
There are several key reasons why external support might be considered. Perhaps most notable is a lack of requisite capabilities within the host organization. As another scorecard manager comments:
“We are experts in financial services, not in building Balanced Scorecards. So it seemed sensible to bring in consultancy support.”
This is a fair argument. It can take some time to inculcate the necessary skills both organizationally and within the scorecard team. Buying in initial scorecard help might shortcut that skills and capability development.
On commencement of the scorecard effort, a skilled consultant can also play a crucial facilitation role, particularly useful where internal skills are missing. They should know how to marshal the collective thinking of the senior team toward the identification of the vital strategic objectives, measures etc.
Such marshalling is not an easy task. As some examples, a vice-president (VP) manufacturing will typically have a different view on the key drivers of strategic success than a VP marketing, as will a VP human resources compared with a VP finance. Getting this team to “sing from the same hymn sheet,” takes skilled orchestration. More, an external consultant can be apolitical and will not come with the baggage or bias of a specific internal corporate function.
The latter point is important. The consultant will not be faced with the difficult dilemma of perhaps having to challenge the ingrained presumptions of their boss (if they report to the VP finance for instance). Challenging your boss in front of their peers may not be a sensible career move.
A further compelling reason for using a consultant, and a point stressed by the manager cited above that successfully used external support, is knowledge transfer.
Simply, an experienced consultant will have seen how scorecards are built and deployed within a number of organizations. As a result they will be cognizant of the structural and cultural barriers that typically hamper any scorecard effort – and how these can be circumnavigated.
When engaging external support, the host organization is buying this knowledge - insights that might prove invaluable in laying the foundation for long-term scorecard success. The UK-based independent consultant Jonathan Chocqueel-Mangan offers a good piece of advice:
“Companies should bleed the consultants dry in terms of sucking out their knowledge and experience. This is critical but rarely happens.”
At the outset of the scorecard engagement, senior management should be clear that knowledge-transfer is a key deliverable of the project.
Watch-Outs in Choosing a Consultant
A lack of knowledge
A first watch-out when selecting a consultant is engaging a consultant that is lacking in knowledge. That the Balanced Scorecard is visually and conceptually simple is both a strength and weakness. It doesn’t take much for somebody to grasp enough of the basics to set themselves up as a consultant. Indeed one scorecard manager made this observation.
“…in many cases consultants are essentially ‘reading the book under the table’ during the consultancy engagement.”
A problem is that scorecard offerings are typically bolted-on to other consulting services – such as quality, IT, or planning. There are good reasons why scorecard consultants will emerge from such disciplines, but purchasers of scorecard consulting should be careful that they are not buying a total quality solution couched in scorecard terminology, for example.
More, a ‘big name’ management consultancy will not necessarily possess the depth of scorecards knowledge found in a boutique scorecard consultancy. Many companies have struggled with a scorecard program due to believing that the bigger the reputation in management consultancy the deeper the scorecard knowledge.
Senior managers should also ensure they do not hand over the scorecard to external advisors, an error made by too many companies. The Balanced Scorecard must be designed and owned by the senior team. Most scorecard consultants could quite easily interview a few business leaders and whip up a scorecard in half a day, but that’s not going to drive the business.
An even greater danger is that consultants might offer (and organizations look for) a template industry scorecard. For instance, a generic pharmaceuticals’ Balanced Scorecard Management System can be plugged and play with some minor tuning. Such a scorecard system might be seductive but will invariably fail as it will lack organizational buy-in and will not capture the unique drivers of the company’s strategic success.
Simply put, leaders shape strategy and it is they who must identify the key objectives, measures, etc. that will drive ultimate success. A good consultant will know this and would not offer to build the scorecard on behalf of the organization, although of course they will be responsible for facilitation and in suggesting objectives, etc.
The following is a checklist of key considerations when choosing a consultant:
1. Choose a consultant with a depth of experience in scorecard design and implementations and that has facilitated successful projects. If possible, find the results of client organizations as a result of their scorecard program.
2. Beware a consultant who treats the scorecard as no more than a measurement exercise. If the consultant speaks about measurement rather than strategy they cannot be considered a scorecard consultant.
3. Make sure the consultant transfers essential knowledge in the form of capabilities, know-how and best practices to an in-house team. This is absolutely imperative for ensuring the long-term viability of the scorecard effort.
4. Define the timetable and deliverables of the scorecard assignment.
And most importantly
5. Be clear that the senior team and not the consultant own the scorecard.
- Darren Rigby, Barbara Bilodeau, Management Tools and Trends. Bain and Company, 2005.